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«By Lewis Daly “Everything in the forest has an utupë image: those who walk on the ground, those who climb in the trees, those who have wings, ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

‘FOOD, GENDER, AND SHAMANISM: SOCIETY

AND COSMOLOGY IN AMAZONIA’

How is the Amerindian body constituted in terms of

food and how does this relate to gender?

By Lewis Daly

“Everything in the forest has an utupë image: those who walk on the ground, those who climb in the

trees, those who have wings, those who live in water. It is those images that the shamans call and make

come down to become xapiripë spirits. Those images are the true centre, the true interior of the forest beings. Common people cannot see them, only the shamans. But they are not images of the animals we know today. They are the images of these animal’s fathers, they are our ancestor’s images.” (Davi Kopenawa Yanomami 1998)

CONTENTS

1. ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………..4

2. INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………….5 Introduction…………………………………………………………....5 •

3. THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES………………………………………..8 The Anthropology of Food………………………………………….....8 • ‘Multinaturalism’…………………………………………………….....9 •

4. SHAMANISM, FOOD, AND COSMOLOGY………………………........13 The Amazonian Shaman……………………………………………...14 • Shamanism and Food………………………………………………...16 • The Shaman as Mediator……………………………………………..18 • Shamanism and Predation………………………………………….....20 •

5. FOOD AND SOCIETY…………………………………………………....22 Power and Politics in Amazonian Society…………………………….22 • Subsistence…………………………………………………………...24 • Cooking……………………………………………………………....26 • Food Commensality and Ritual……………………………………….28 •

6. GENDER, FOOD, AND THE BODY…………………………………...31 Division of Labour…………………………………………………...32 • Corporeality and Ambiguity………………………………………......33 •

7. CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………….37 Multinaturalism and Gender………………………………………….38 • ‘Gender Perspectivism’……………………………………………….40 • Epilogue……………………………………………………………...42 •

8. BIBLIOGRAPHY………………………………………………………….43

–  –  –

Map. 1: AMAZONIAN TRIBES………………………………………….…….…..6 Map. 2: AMAZON RAINFOREST…………………………….………….……….6 Ch. 2, Fig. 1: ‘SHAMAN AS MEDIATOR’………………………….………….…18 Ch. 3, Fig. 1: CULINARY TRIANGLE/GENDER TRIANGLES……..……....26 Ch. 3, Fig. 2: FOOD/NON-FOOD TRIANGLES…………………….………...28

–  –  –

This comparative study explores food and notions of the body in Amazonia. Following Viveiros de Castro (1998), it argues that Amerindian ontology is ‘perspectival’ in that the body is the seat of the individual’s point of view. All animals share a human spirit. What differentiates species, however, is their bodies as sets of affects, dispositions and capacities. The central argument is that these bodily affects are constituted by the practices of food production and consumption. These food practices are gendered in Amazonia, and foods as tangible entities encompass parts of those gendered individuals who interact with them. Thus, gender differences and similarities are made socially comprehensible through the gendering of foods. That human and animal species are differentiated through bodily affects, and food in part constitutes these bodily affects, suggests that gender differentiation in food stuffs and practices implies a fundamental difference between the bodily affects of men and women in Amerindian ontologies. This is termed ‘gender perspectivism’.

–  –  –

In Amazonia, the symbolic meanings of food appear to infiltrate virtually all aspects of life in the rainforest, from hunting and fishing to gathering and ‘swidden’ horticulture;

from the basic cooking of manioc roots to the ritual preparation of ceremonial psychotropic substances such as yagé. In this area of the world, ranging across a vast landmass from the Eastern Andes to the North-West Brazilian coast, groups of people live in close contact with their rainforest environments, and it is these fertile environments that lend their human guests a fascinating array of social practices, from the everyday to the ritual, that make it the perfect region in which to explore the links between food use and cosmological beliefs. A pertinent theme in the ethnographic literature used to compile the data cited in this study is gender symbolism in association with food. Gender will therefore be a principle focus of this study. Another recurring theme is that of shamanism, and the role of the shaman is essential to understanding links between society and other realms of the cosmos, such as those where spirits reside.





In essence then, this is a study of how food and ingestion in Amazonia convey the meanings of social practices, and cross-cut the layers of the cosmologies that make up the entire worlds of the people who reside there.

Food is a basic element of life. Human beings are unique in that many of their food practices appear to lie in the field of ‘culture’, that is, they are loaded with symbolic meanings. In virtually all known societies, food is produced in some way, whether it is through hunting, horticulture, pastoralism, or in a factory. Food must also be processed if not to be eaten raw. For Levi-Strauss, cooking is an essential part of ‘being human’, and can therefore be viewed as a kind of non-verbal language. By translating Saussurean semiotic techniques to such non-verbal forms of communication, “we can hope to discover for each specific case how the cooking of a society is a language in which it unconsciously translates its structure” (Levi-Strauss 1997: 35). Barthes extends on this basic structuralism, suggesting that food can tell the anthropologist much more about people than how they communicate; it is suggestive of their whole ontologies:Food serves as a sign not only for themes, but also for situations; and this, all told, means the way of life that is emphasized, much more than expressed, by it. To eat is a behaviour that develops beyond its own ends, replacing, summing up, and signalizing other behaviours, and it is precisely for these reasons it is a sign. (Barthes 1997: 25).

Thus, food practices are rich in symbolic meaning in human society. Since “[o]ne of the most significant domains of meaning embodied in food centres on the relation between the sexes, their gender definitions, and their sexuality” (Counihan 1999: 9), this study will investigate the relationship between food and gender in Amazonia, with an over-arching aim of analysing notions of the body in indigenous ontologies. In essence, the fundamental premise is that food as a symbolic entity is a way of conceptualising the body and relations between genders in Amazonian society and cosmology: the ambiguous nature of the body requires that gender differences are defined through the social use of food.

It seems ironic but apt to study the long-secluded societies of the Amazon rainforest through the idiom of Western academic discourse in an age where the very existence of those societies is threatened by the destruction wrought by deforestation instigated by the industrial desires of the ‘West’. I hope that in conveying as much as possible about the largely overlooked people who dwell in the Amazon, the discipline of anthropology and its long association with that area can act as an ideological terrarium (albeit an academic rather than political one) for those people.

Map. 1: The Amazon River Basin, S. America. The main tribes discussed in the text are marked in red; the major rivers of the basin are marked in blue.

(Amended from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Amazon_river_basin.png) Map. 2: Satellite image of the Amazon rainforest, S. America (from NASA). The yellow line demarcates the rainforest according to the WWF.

(Source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Amazon_rainforest.jpg)

–  –  –

This thesis draws on a variety of theoretical perspectives, since it is the idiosyncratic nature of ethnography that each account is written in a specific historical academic and personal context. The anthropologist must take the theoretical perspective and the ethnographic ‘data’ to be inseparable in their context. Authorial objectivism cannot be assumed. Thus, this study is both ethnographically and theoretically comparative at one and the same time. The aim of this chapter is to delineate the main theoretical perspectives adhered to. In terms of the broader argument, this section is necessary, first, to lay the theoretical foundations upon which much of this study is based, and second, to demonstrate to the reader the most fundamental ontological premises by which Amerindians view the worlds in which they live. As I hope will be portrayed in this section, Amerindian ontologies are corporeally-based and so questions of food and gender, which are irremovable from notions of the body, are of utmost importance to understanding them. The analyses of food practices and gender are fundamental to understanding how the Amazonian perspective is corporeally situated. In order to lay the foundations for such a study, the following section is a brief synopsis of the history of food anthropology.

–  –  –

Food, as perhaps the most fundamental biological necessity after air, is of huge significance to anthropological study. The meanings of food for human beings, however, transcend the purely utilitarian requirements of nutrition. Mintz has argued that “[n]ourishment, a basic biological need, becomes something else because we humans transform it symbolically into a system of meaning for much more than itself. That seemingly needless over-complication is a distinctively human undertaking, which every culture embraces, but each somewhat differently” (Mintz 1996: 6). To study food, then, is to study ‘cultures’ and their idiosyncrasies.

Contemporary anthropologists have centred discussion of food on gender and sexuality (Counihan 1999; Kahn 1986; Weismantel 1989). It has been noted by many that consumption and copulation are similar processes: both are basic human needs and both are heavily desired. Both eating and sex can produce euphoric feelings. In essence, the contemporary anthropology of food is occupied with the body and phenomenology. The distinctiveness of this thesis, however, is that it uses such an approach to explore Viveiros de Castro’s (1998) recent theory of Amerindian ‘multinaturalism’.

–  –  –

In Amazonia, almost all produce comes from the rainforest in one way or another.

Therefore, it is essential to study the relationships between Amerindian people and the surrounding world in which they are immersed. In his seminal work ‘Cosmological Deixis and Amerindian Perspectivism’ (1998), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro proposes a panAmazonian theory that he coins ‘multinaturalism’. Amerindians imagine that all beings in the world derive from a common condition of humanity, which is exemplified in many Amerindian myths (see Levi-Strauss 1970). The essence of Viveiros de Castro’s argument is that humans see animals equally as humans, but in another realm of reality. Every species has a human perspective through which they see themselves as human. To quote his famous example:Animals see their food as human food (jaguars see blood as manioc beer, vultures see the maggots in rotting flesh as grilled fish); they see their bodily attributes (fur, feathers, claws, beaks) as body decorations or cultural instruments; they see their social system as organized in the same way as human institutions are (with chiefs, shamans, ceremonies, exogamous moieties, and whatnot). (Viveiros de Castro 2004 (a): 466) What differentiates species is not their ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, which is essentially human, but rather their bodies. Jaguars have different bodies from human people. Their points of view are situated in different corporeal vessels. Thus, the ontological claim here is that animals see things as humans do, but because their bodies are different, they see different things. What differentiates species, then, is less how they perceive the world and more the world they perceive:Animals are people, or see themselves as persons. Such a notion is virtually always associated with the idea that the manifest form of each species is a mere envelope (a ‘clothing’) which conceals an internal human form, usually only visible to the eyes of the particular species or to certain trans-specific beings such as shamans. This internal form is the ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ of the animal. (Viveiros de Castro 1998: 470).

‘Amerindian perspectivism’ is the epithet he gives to the notion that every being sees the world as a human from their perspective. This corresponds with Kaj Ǻrhem’s observation of the Makuna tribe of Colombia that “[a]nimals are people in another dimension of reality… The world looks radically different depending on one’s point of view” (Ǻrhem 1988: 60, 62).

Ontologically, Amerindian perspectivism can be regarded as an inverse of Western ‘multiculturalism’. ‘Multiculturalism’ assumes a Cartesian split between mind and

body; between ‘culture’ and ‘nature’. Scientific ontologies view the body as universal:



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